By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The 2011 Visionary Awards Ceremony was held at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on June 21, the longest… and also the hottest day of the year. This annual ceremony – the Oscars of Silicon Valley -  honored four distinguished technology innovators – Dr. Hermann Hauser (Amadeus Capital Partners), Promod Haque (Norwest Venture Partners), Bud Tribble (Apple Inc.) and TJ Rodgers (Cypress Semiconductor Corporation). Presented by SVForum, previously SDForum, “SV” Silicon Valley –  was an important theme of the evening. In accepting their awards, honorees attempted to answer the question: what makes Silicon Valley unique? Or in the case of TJ Rodgers, what makes him unique?

The energetic Susan Lucas-Conwell kicked things off by announcing the new-look SVForum – which has outgrown its SDForum, Software Development status – and is now focused on its Silicon Valley roots. “We continue to grow and evolve,” she said. “We serve a broad footprint covering the entire technology industry.” Interesting to note that cleantech was the first sector she cited, along with the usual suspects: healthcare, IT, software, social media, cloud etc.  With a jazzy new logo and a succinct mission to connect, engage and excel; SVForum looks poised for an exciting new chapter.

Promod Haque was introduced by Ken Comee of IBM who promised a “This is your Life” moment. Much to the relief of the audience, it was more of a 21st Century Twitter version (ie short and pithy). Promod began by reflecting on the uniqueness of being a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley – its philosophy and values. There was a collective holding of breath. Were we about to hear the Holy Grail of Silicon Valley?

“The freedom to fail is unique about Silicon Valley,” said Promod. “It’s an essential piece of innovating.” Déjà vu anyone? It’s a popular – even over-used – refrain these days and one that has surfaced previously at the Visionary Awards. Anyone remember Vinod Khosla expound the same philosophy at the 2009 Visionary Awards?  Déjà vu or not, Promod’s comments underlined the consensus that it’s a vital part of  Silicon Valley’s magic.

Promod then elaborated…“I tell my kids…my entrepreneurs, ‘when you do have failure, it’s not a person, it’s an event in their life. Don’t let it scare you…don’t let it define you.’” Well said. But is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley no longer a big secret?

Next up, Apple’s Bud Tribble, who was introduced by Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft. Dan’l gave us an odd lesson in our A,B,Cs before he got on the crux of the intro: “When Bud speaks, people – like Steve Jobs – listen – and that’s hard!” Dan’l alluded to Apple’s Location-Gate drama, but Bud wisely eschewed the subject, instead enthusing about the special qualities of Silicon Valley. He  emphasized the importance of perspectives and how we connect . In Silicon Valley, “the connections go beyond companies – that’s the magic of this place.” As for vision? That all depends on your perspective and he quoted from Alan Kay (the pioneering computer scientist): “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” He also took us back to the early days of Apple in the 80’s and described the wide variety of perspectives around the table, including an archeologist and even a Marxist (!) as well as the inevitable computer programmer. Understanding what computers are really good at is key, said Bud. And what is that? Communication. That’s his focus. As for the future, Bud wasn’t giving anything away. True to his solid Apple pedigree, Bud concluded by saying, “I can’t really talk about the future… since I’m at Apple.” A visionary who is keeping his vision tightly under wraps…for the time being.

Later, I asked Bud how Mr. Jobs is doing and if he thinks Jobs is going to come back to the helm on a full time basis. “He finds it hard to stay away,” said Bud. Indeed.

T.J. Rodgers was introduced by Eric Benhamou of Benhamou Ventures  and described Rodgers as “a tough boss, argumentative and very competitive,” and added “I’m using polite language here.” The audience was well amused .

To be continued…

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